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WHO Says World Must Invest More in Health Care to Eliminate Coverage Gaps

In lieu of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating that if the world intends to meet health care goals set in 2015, countries must increase health care spending by at least 1% of their gross domestic product.

The report warns that if efforts to expand services and increase spending are not made, up to 5 billion people will not have access to health care by 2030.  

“If we are really serious about achieving universal health coverage and improving people’s lives, we must get serious about primary health care,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO director-general, in a news release. “That means providing essential health services like immunization, antenatal care, healthy lifestyle advice as close to home as possible—and making sure people do not have to pay for this care out of their own pockets.”

Increases of this magnitude would include an additional $200 billion invested in primary health care across low- and middle-income countries, creating an opportunity to save 60 million lives, according to the WHO report.

Funding for these increases have to come from the individual countries, themselves. The WHO report explains that that “most countries can scale-up primary health care using domestic resources—either by increasing public spending on health in general, or by reallocating spending toward primary health care—or by doing both.”

The report adds that currently, most countries are underinvesting in primary health care and for those countries that cannot afford this, will have to turn to other countries for support.

WHO’s report emphasizes the importance of scaling-up services available, citing that while coverage has steadily increased since 2000, many countries are still facing severe gaps in care—particularly though plagued by poverty and conflict.

“Too many women and children continue to die from easily preventable and treatable causes simply because they can’t get the care they need to survive,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, in a statement. “By working with communities to provide primary health care to the poorest and the most vulnerable, we can reach the last mile and save millions of lives.”

Protecting people from financial hardship is also a top concern in the WHO report, explaining that more people are suffering from out-of-pocket costs today than there were 15 years ago.

“About 925 million people spend more than 10% of their household income on health care; 200 million people spend more than 25% of their income on health. And impoverishment due to paying for health care increased except among the extremely poor,” stated the report.

Secretary General, Angel Gurria, of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in France said, “It’s shocking to see a growing proportion of the population struggling to make ends meet because they are paying too much for their own health, even in advanced economies. The only places where this is not happening is in countries that invest more and more effectively in health.”

The UN General Assembly met in September to discuss a far-reaching Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.—Edan Stanley

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